Lance Armstrong's Love Of Subaru & Nissan: Just More Lies?

January 18, 2013

Advertising is hard work.

You have to sift through mountains of research to identify your target audience. You have to refine your brand to convince that audience to buy your product.

And if you rely on a celebrity to hawk your wares, you have to lie in bed wondering if you'll wake up to find his/her face splashed across TMZ, linked to a jaw-dropping scandal.

It happens all the time. Hertz dumped O.J. Simpson in 1992, when rumors of his domestic abuse first surfaced. Michael Phelps lost a slew of endorsement deals in 2009 when the media uncovered photos of him huffing on a bong. (Though Mazda didn't seem to mind.) That same year, Tiger Woods was transformed into advertising kryptonite when his extramarital affairs became headline fodder. And Aflac kicked Gilbert Gottfried to the curb after he posted some insensitive tweets in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in March 2011.

Which brings us to Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong was recently a pitchman for the Nissan Leaf, and before that, he shilled for Subaru. Now that America's top cyclist has had a tête-à-tête with Oprah Winfrey and finally confessed what was surely one of the worst kept secrets in history, what are we to think? 

Debating Lance Armstrong "the person" is difficult, since few of us actually know him. Suffice it to say that the public's opinion of him hasn't always been positive, thanks to questionable moves like Armstrong dumping likable songstress Cheryl Crow around the time she publicly disclosed her struggle with breast cancer. Reaction to his chat with the Big O hasn't helped the guy's favorability ratings.

What effect does this have on his past work? Probably none at all.

Armstrong crafted his brand around health, fitness, and environmental responsibility -- a do-gooder image that helped balance some of the media's unflattering revelations about his personal life. Subaru and the Nissan Leaf were great fits for the Armstrong brand, and since both companies ended their relationship with him some time ago, the ads stand as a snapshot of happier, more innocent times.

As for Armstrong's future work, though, the prognosis isn't so good. True, he'll have an easier time rehabilitating his image than, say, O.J. Simpson. However, the volume and vehemence of Armstrong's lies about doping won't be easy for the public to forget.

But while the public may not forget his misdeeds, they may be willing to forgive them. In this era of Facebook, Twitter, cell phone cams, and reality television, the once-sharp boundary between public and private has all but disappeared. Private transgressions that would've been unforgivable 20 years ago (e.g. sex tapes, wild nights on the town, crude jokes) are now shrugged off. We know that what happens in Vegas no longer stays in Vegas: everyone has skeletons in her closet, and chances are, you can find them on YouTube.

Bottom line: the public has become jaded, which, in the long run, isn't such a bad thing for celebs. Sure, we know that what Armstrong did was wrong, but we also know that he's human, and -- like us -- imperfect. If anything can salvage his reputation going forward, that can.

[via New York Times, h/t John Voelcker]

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